Alexandria-based website connects local makers, shoppers
Word spread about the website through social media, and she now has more than 60 vendors, many of them from the Alexandria area.
Rhea Northington's walls are covered with clocks, and it's not because she's having trouble keeping track of time.
The vibrant clocks are her handiwork; normally the Alexandria artist would sell them at area craft shows. This year, however, many craft shows were canceled because of the pandemic, including the Andria Theatre's Art in the Park and a gigantic show in Little Falls that many local vendors attend.
"Pretty much all of my walls are are holding the more delicate pieces," she said. "I don't normally have 50 clocks on the wall."
Northington is one of the local artists and crafters who have signed up for a new website, WeMakeItMN.com , created in late November by an Alexandria mom startled to learn about goods made and sold by area residents.
“I didn’t know you could buy locally made soaps and lotions,” said Amy Glade, who left her job teaching kindergarten so she could help her kids with distance learning. “I thought it would be nice to have some sort of website where you could go to find local people making local things. Especially right now they need to be supported.”
Word spread about her website through social media, and she now has more than 60 vendors, many of them from the Alexandria area. Her website isn't a place to buy and sell; it's a place to connect shoppers with makers. She posts each seller with a blurb about what they do and a link to their site, whether it's a Facebook page, Etsy shop or professional website. She doesn't charge for the service.
Local vendors sell elderberry syrup, cotton candy, coffee and soap from Icelandic sheep milk. You can find fire pokers, wooden games, jewelry and baby clothes.
Northington is hardly alone in having excess inventory. Renee Dickinson of Clarissa has 600 jars of unsold salsa, and that was even after she scaled back her salsa making. Handmade rugs hang in Teri Haburn's Osakis basement.
"My situation is similar," said Laura Jones, who crochets hats and headbands under the label LJ’s Crochet. "I can stack crocheted hats together easier than jars of salsa but have a lot of stacks of hats in tubs. I will most likely donate them to a charity; like coats for kids or the adult hats to a cancer center."
The pandemic has not been kind to craft fairs. Even fairs that have stayed open have seen poorer attendance and sales, some vendors report, as some shoppers were reluctant to join. Festivalnet.com, a popular online display of festivals and fairs of all kinds, said its database of North American events has dropped from 26,000-plus to around 15,000, including virtual events.
"Many events are waiting to see what happens with the vaccine," said Julie Cochrane, Festivalnet operations manager.
Local makers put tremendous work into their products, often preparing for the next season of shows after the first one is over. Dickinson grows her own tomatoes for her jars of Salsa by Chippy. The craft shows are a ready way to market what they've made, to see shoppers face-to-face and answer questions.
Northington said she normally attends eight to 10 outdoor summer arts and craft fairs. None of them took place this year.
"Not being able to show sell and promote my work at those venues really put a strain on my business this year so I am very thankful to the people who are organizing this database and others like it," she said. "They’re really doing a lot to help us small business owners and self employed creatives."
Shows are great not just for sales, but for landing commissions, she said. Shows typically make up about 50% of her annual income. Online sales have picked up somewhat, but her 2020 income is still down about 30% overall so far.
"I did manage to find a couple of very small local shows that were held but an event with a couple of hundred in attendance doesn’t even begin to compare to the normal events that I do that have 10, 20, or 50 thousand in attendance," she said.
Still, she was able to find a bright spot.
"My basement is pretty full right now but the slow down on those things are allowing me time for commissions, upgrades on my Etsy shop, and more time consuming projects," she said. "I'm hopeful for and looking forward to a busy 2021."